Category Archives: writing

Living the dream: in the beginning…

One day there will be a new blog, and it will be called something like, and it will document the beginning of the journey, and the beginning might turn out to be yesterday.

Or it might turn out to be the day I borrowed Emily’s laptop to watch a Friends episode but instead ended up watching the DVD that was already in there, Season Two, Episode Five of a little TV programme called the West Wing and thinking “you know what, this is actually really good”.

Or maybe the beginning was moving back to Belgium: maybe there’s something in the air here, writing stardust or something  Here was where I wrote my first poems, my first “novels”. Here was where people began to talk about me as a writer and believe in me when I was far too young to warrant that kind of title or that kind of confidence.

Or maybe it’s not the dust, or the water, or anything about my childhood. Maybe it’s the chance I got to write articles that reminded me there was far more to my love of language than a passion for correct grammar in three languages.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I moved here with no big agenda, had no television, and one July had no social life either, and the only two things that kept me busy were work and the West Wing, and one day, walking down the street after a lesson with a Russian diplomat I thought, “wouldn’t it be fun to teach Bradley Whitford French?” and suddenly, there was my novel.

Who knows, really, where it began? But yesterday I got an email, the email I’ve been waiting for, except I thought I was waiting for a letter, and I thought I was waiting till March. It said, “It’s the Director of the MFA program at American University. I wanted to touch base with you personally and let you know that you’ve been accepted into the program starting fall 2012.”

At this point, I don’t know much. I don’t know if I will get the scholarship I need to make this feasible. I don’t know if it’s God opening a door, or just me shoving at it really hard.

But I reserved some blog domain names just in case. Just in case I get to write about living in DC, studying creative writing, and campaigning for the Democrats. Just in case, in other words, I get to live my dream and tell you about it.

NaNoWriMo: Where I wrote

Apparently I now go to America in November; it’s just what I do. (Since next year is a Presidential election year, I expect the pattern to continue.) In 2009 and 2010 I thought vaguely about NaNoWriMo and what a shame it was I wasn’t going to be able to do it. In 2011, I came to my senses and realised there was no reason I couldn’t write while travelling. That the writing might make the travelling both more fun and more purposeful and the travelling might make the writing more inspired, more grounded in the city where I seem to keep setting my novels.

So I went to DC, and I wrote.

I began my novel in Peregrine Expresso in Capitol Hill.

The next day, I took a train to Philadelphia, and I wrote.

I went back to DC, and I slacked off for a bit, but then I went to a Write In at Yola in Dupont Circle.

It was my first Write In, and I loved the experience, despite the two girls having a very noisy conversation, oblivious to the fact that everyone, but everyone, around them was studying or reading or trying to write a novel in a month. I met some super friendly people and scribbled for a happy hour or so before meeting a friend to go to see the Capitol Steps.

The next day, I had grand plans to write in the Pain Quotidien on 6th and Penn after church, but NatWest scuppered those plans by blocking my bank card and causing me to spend hours and lots of dollars on the phone to sort it out.

But then, the day after that, I finally, finally made it to Politics and Prose, for an event with Erin Morgenstern (whose successful novel, The Night Circus, started out as a NaNoWriMo novel). It’s a wonderful place – with a name like that, how could it not be – and they have a coffee shop downstairs where I sat with another WriMo and scribbled my way to a writer’s high.

The next day, I went back to Peregrine Expresso to see my new friend who had offered to marry me and my cute British accent so that I could have a visa. (Note to any immigration people reading: I’m pretty sure he was kidding.) While I was there, I wrote a little more, before heading to the DNC headquarters to do some phone banking. (Because, you know, if there’s one thing I love more than phones, it’s cold calling complete strangers who probably won’t understand my aforementioned accent.)

The day after that (we’re on 9th, if anyone is following), I got a few words down in Café Milano in Georgetown before my salmon and fennel dish arrived…

… then I paid a pilgrimage to the soon-to-be defunct (sniff) Barnes and Noble and its Starbucks, where I sat at a high seat by the window…

.,. and then I walked back to the hotel, dropped off the books I had accidentally bought in Lantern Books, and popped into another Write In, this one at Panera Bread at Dupont Circle (you’ll note from the fact that the trees in front are not autumn colours that I borrowed this photo from Google Images). I had trouble with the ordering system, but made it downstairs with my orange juice and my cookie eventually. It was distracting down there: there was a Spanish lesson going on right behind me – it was hard not to think, “hey! When I move here, I could do my lessons in Panera Bread!”. (Immigration people, if you’re still reading, I of course will only do this if I have a visa that allows me to engage in paid employment.)

The people who were writing there were of a talkative disposition, which ordinarily I wouldn’t have minded, but I didn’t have very long, because owing to the distractions of Georgetown I’d got there later than I’d meant to, and I had to rush off after an hour to go and hear Umberto Eco at the 6th and i Synagogue. I was glad I had some moral support around me though, to ease my distress at having penned the words “she was drowning in his blue eyes”.

By 10th, I was hitting my stride, and mourning my imminent departure. After an afternoon at the Newseum and a yummy dinner at America Eats with possibly the most delicious pecan pie I will ever taste, I joined the write in at the now familiar Starbucks on 3rd and Penn. (It’s close to We the Pizza and to where the Hawk and Dove – sob – used to be; i.e. it’s where I would hang out all the time if I worked on the Hill.) Amazing Starbucks, complete with a real-looking open fire in the very quiet and studious upstairs part.

I was just hitting my stride after a twitter break (ahem) when they kicked us out of there, though. I wrote a little more downstairs and then headed back to my hotel…

where I made up my quota with my newfound determination, or possibly to avoid packing, and thus the thought of leaving.

The next day, I boarded a plane to LA, just like Josh Lyman did all those years ago to go and get Sam. I fell way short of my word quota that day, but I did manage a few pages up in the air.

I had ideas about writing some more after I got to my hotel – if you can call it a hotel – in Pasadena, but I was stressed and tired and tearful (perhaps at the prospect of being so close to Bradley Whitford) and so I never quite made it.

The next day was sightseeing and catching up with Brianna (yay), and the day after that when I’d had plans to go to a write in, then All Saints Church, then the mid-month NaNoWriMo celebrations in LA, instead I made a last minute decision to spend the day with her. Which was lovely, and her church was fab, and we visited a posh hotel beloved of Presidents (with good reason), and ate the first cupcakes I’ve actually enjoyed in America, but still, it was one of those times I wished I could have cloned myself and been in two places at once.

We rounded the day off with a delicious meal at Russell’s – so that’s what a hamburger ought to taste like – and then I spent a happy couple of hours in a Barnes and Noble. (“Does Bradley Whitford ever come in here?” “Who?” “He’s an actor… Josh Lyman from the West Wing? He lives in Pasadena.” “Oh,  yes, he’s a regular.” You are so totally making that up, given that a minute ago you didn’t know who he was, but I want to believe you, so I am going to.) Next door was a Starbucks – open till midnight, ah, civilisation, how I’ve missed you – and I planned to sit and make my quota if it killed me. But the seat by the window that I’d had my eye on got taken before I could get there, and the people who sat themselves next to me were very talkative, and wanted to know all about me. I have a hunch they were famous in some way – one of them was very whacky and wearing a weird hat, and the other told me her sister used to live downstairs from Allison Janney in New York, which is confusing since I thought Allison Janney lived in California, but anyway – but to cut a long story even longer, I got no writing done.

So the next day, I was determined. I wandered round Old Town Pasadena and looked round All Saints Church, then spent a happy rest of the morning in Vroman’s, which is an amazing independent bookshop, where I succumbed to a Pasadena tshirt and the novel “Helen of Pasadena” (which actually was not bad, and unexpectedly made me cry. I wonder if Jane Kaczmarek has read it, and if she cried too?). It also has a café, so I sat and wrote there…

… and then, after paying a small visit to the Pasadena Playhouse and sighing over the Artists’ Entrance, where, if any of you would like to donate a few hundred dollars or a couple of thousand airmiles I could potentially meet my hero in just a few months’ time, I went to Sabor 2 which is where some of the write ins were held. The coffee was not that nice and the people were not that friendly, but it was a cool place.

And then I got on a plane, and then another plane, and I came home to frost on the ground, tenacious jet lag, a trip to the UK, and about 40,000 words still to write. By 19th November, I had a choice: full steam ahead or give up. I wasn’t going to be half-hearted about it and get to 25,000 words. I tweeted and asked for advice, and my fellow WriMos were very encouraging, for which I am eternally grateful.

So I wrote in the spare bed at Tim and Jacqui’s flat in Stockwell, and then on the train from London to Oxford for the wedding…

… and then I wrote in Giraffe in Victoria after Church

… and then I wrote in bed, and then I wrote on the Eurostar back to Belgium…

… and then I finally stopped international travelling and wrote some of the rest of my novel on trains between Nivelles and Brussels …

… but mostly at my desk in those final few days when I had to crank over 20,000 words in not a very long time. I could have sanitised and tidied it for you, but this, minus the tissues which I admit to throwing away, is what my writing table looks like. I am an artist. It’s okay to be messy. It’s part of the persona.

I know it’s not pretty, but it got the job done. So maybe the moral of the story is there is no need to be somewhere interesting and different to do NaNoWriMo. Wait, no, that can’t be what I was trying to say…

NaNoWriMo: how I’ll do it next time

1. I’ll spend October getting ready. 

I wanted to do that this time, too, but for the third year in a row the last couple of weeks in October were a little crazy, with translations suddenly arriving right when my pieces for the What’s On section of Away Magazine were due – and there are always more of those in the run-up to Christmas anyway, what with the markets and castles and carol concerts to write about.

So yes, there was time to throw things in a suitcase for my America trip; there was time to go out and carefully select pretty notebooks for NaNoWriMo, and I fitted in reading Chris Baty’s “No Plot No Problem” well in advance. But there wasn’t time to do character sketches or draw up timelines or brainstorm subplots. Which, in a way, is fine. I wanted to see if NaNoWriMo worked when you do no planning whatsoever – as it is, in fact, supposed to. It’s the opposite of how I wrote my first novel – carefully, deliberately, a scene when it would pop into my head, all of which after spending a long time getting to know my characters – and I was curious to see if it worked, and it kind of did, but I also kept thinking how much more productive it would be if I had a better idea of where it was going. And how much easier it would be to start each writing session if I had, as suggested my someone on I can’t remember which website, written thirty index cards, each with a scene to develop.

That said, I don’t know. Some of my best writing to date has been when I’ve started with a writing prompt and just written for thirty minutes, the aim being to keep writing, and see where it takes you. NaNoWriMo is, the way I did it, a long experiment in freewriting, and I think there is value in that.

Besides, I can do the character development and backstory and subplots and timeline now, and rewrite and add words as I need to. (And I need about an extra 50,000 words, so those things will come in handy.) Also, it’s very possible that I’m remembering the process of writing Inevitable wrongly or selectively: a lot of the brainstorming and post-it note sticking was done between drafts.

Still, next time I’ll do it the other way.

2. I’ll start on 1st November.

I’m fortunate to live in a country which has two bank holidays during NaNoWriMo – on 1st and 11th November, and if those days fall on a Tuesday or a Thursday, you tend to get an extra day off work thrown in too. My teaching also slows down during the first week of the month because it’s half term here. Which of course has been my excuse for taking that time off to go on holiday for three years in a row now. I’m glad I left on 1st November this year, because if I hadn’t I may not have made it to Philadelphia to see Staging Hope and meet Melissa Fitzgerald. But another year I will make sure I spend as much of 1st November as possible writing – or doing the brainstorming that I yet again won’t have had a chance to do in October. Then on 2nd, I’ll take to the skies. (I assume, by the way, that my next NaNoWriMo won’t be next year, because next year there is an election to win.)

I did start on 1st, and I got 1,000 words or so done, and only had to stop because the whole of Peregrine Espresso was spinning and I started to feel as if I was going to fall off my chair, what with jet lag, sleep deprivation and messed up eating patterns. And my novel starts with Aaron jiggling his leg because on the bus from Dulles to Rosslyn there was a guy jiggling his leg as he spoke very quietly into his mobile phone, and it intrigued me, because when people are stressed enough to be jiggling their legs they are normally shouting. Also, there was something nicely symbolic about beginning my NaNoWriMo novel in DC, where it is set, in a cafe of which I had thought on my last visit, “I would like to come and write here”. But still, it would have been nice to have started, say, 1,000 words ahead, rather than a few hundred behind.

3. I’ll travel.

Yes, it’s great that Belgium gives us writing time in November. But what’s less great is that, like so many things, NaNoWriMo has yet to take off here. The best thing about NaNoWriMo is the community aspect: you write together at “write-ins”, you meet up for half-month parties, you send each other encouraging emails. Yes, nominally there is a NaNoWriMo “region” covering “Belgium and Holland”, but it irritates me that they only send out their emails in Dutch – since just under half of this country speaks French – and there are very few Write Ins, and the ones there are tend to be in Flanders or Holland. Also, I have not found the Belgians to be super friendly when you first meet them, so the thought of walking into a coffee shop to join in with strangers and being met with a blank stare when I say “Hi, I’m Claire” is a little discouraging. In the US, everyone is super-friendly, especially WriMos. In the UK, I’m among my own kind, so I know what to expect. In other countries, there are also more Write-Ins – I love the idea of the California one that takes place on a a train. Write-Ins are a great way to meet people when you are travelling alone, too.

Plus, of course, there’s the inspiration factor. I don’t know if all my novels will be doomed love stories set in DC – though it’s looking increasingly likely – but there is something fantastic about sitting in the Pain Quotidien on 6th and Pennsylvania writing about a date in the Pain Quotidien on 6th and Pennsylvania (although I didn’t quite manage to be that in sync, sadly): about looking around and getting the real details from the real place, about eavesdropping on conversations and making a careful note of them. The dad who told his toddler “senate is in session” by way of explanation of something or other will almost certainly make an appearance in my novel, as will the dogs and small bilingual children in Lincoln Park. This kind of thing makes the place feel more real to the writer and therefore to the reader. Well, hopefully.

4. I’ll hand write.

I almost always hand write my first drafts. Working on my writing is almost the only time that I use pen and paper now, so it signals to me and my body that I am in creative mode. I am a creature of habit, and I found my writer’s voice sitting in St James’ Park writing with a pen and paper, so that’s the way it’ll stay. It’s also how I do my dailyish freewriting exercises. Fewer distractions that way. Long enough for my brain to catch up with my hand.

Maybe by next time I will have mastered the art of sitting at a computer and not flicking back and forth from my writing to Facebook to twitter to Authonomy to Blogger and back to writing. After all, I have been sitting here typing this blog post for quite q while now and resisted the temptation, so you never know. Plus, I have this funky wireless keyboard thing for my iPad now, and it’s a pleasure to type on.

But still, an iPad and a keyboard, light as they are, are more hassle to carry around than a notebook and a pen. You have to remember to charge them, and hope that nothing goes wrong with them, which they rarely do, but it does happen, and if it happens, you can guarantee it will right at that breakthrough moment when you’re typing a pivotal scene.

I also live in constant fear of my iPad being stolen, which is one of the reasons I don’t carry it around with me everywhere when I’m going to be hanging around touristy places. And yes, okay, my whole handbag could get nicked, and if my notebook were in it that would be a real shame – particularly because I back up by taking photos of my notebook, and my camera would likely also be in my bag – but I don’t furtively look around me when I get out my notebook and pen to check no one looks like the notebook and pen stealing type.

Speaking of notebooks, it’s also an excuse to buy pretty notebooks and post it notes. And who doesn’t need one of those from time to time?

5. I’ll count my words every day.

Arguably the best reason for typing NaNoWriMo novels is that the whole point is to get to 50,000 words, and therefore you need to know when you’ve got to 50,000 words. I’ve found my estimations to be wildly inaccurate – well, not wildly, but wildly once you multiply 20 words by 90 pages, which led to a frenzied final day of NaNoWriMo and a collapse in exhaustion rather than a triumphant hooray. This was, of course, after I’d hand counted most of 50,000 words over two or three days. Try it. It’s not a lot of fun. But I really did need to know if I had made it. I think I have. But then again, I might have counted completely wrong. Next time I’d like to know for sure, and I’d like to watch the little NaNoWriMo graph go up steadiliy. I’m sure I can count 1,667 words much more patiently and accurately than I can count 20,000.

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I’ve won NaNoWriMo!

Well, I did it! I wrote 50,000 words in a month. The exact official number is 50,143 words, but you can ignore that completely, because I hand wrote, and also hand counted, and given my propensity for mathematical errors the real number could be anywhere between 45,000 and 55,000 words.

Oddly, I’m not as excited as I thought be. Not even as relieved – though doubtless that will happen tomorrow when I realise I can spend train time reading and free time inanely clicking on refresh on twitter, just like before. Maybe I should have planned some kind of momentous event or at least champagne drinking to celebrate with friends. Well, there’s still time, so let me know.

I’m sure I’ll be musing about NaNoWriMo a fair bit in the next few weeks: why I did it (to prove to myself that I still had it in me to be self-disciplined!), whether I’d do it again (the jury is still out at this point),why I hand write, and what I learned. But for now I wanted to proudly display my winner’s badge:

I even got a winner’s cerificate that I could customise and print, but since I haven’t decided what to call myself or what to name the novel, I won’t add it here just here. It’s pretty fab though – those nice people at NaNoWriMo really have thought of everything. Almost everything. If someone could please design an app to count hand written words (so that you basically just point an iPad at a page), that would be wonderful.

Techniques for upping your NaNoWriMo word count

The end is in sight. 30th November draws near. How’s your word count doing? Scrabbling around for those extra few words? Here’s some tips I’ve picked up. 

1. Give your character a dilemma. 
That way things can keep going round in a circle, to illustrate said dilemma. Particularly if she’s also indecisive. Like, she wants him but she knows she can’t have him but she really does want him but she really can’t have him but… 
Indecisiveness in general is also good, since you can add things like “oh, I don’t know, I think I’ll have the cheesecake… no, the pumpkin pie. Oh, I don’t know. I’m so terrible at decisions. Help me, oh my hero, to make the right choice.” (You’ll be glad to know nothing like that appears in my novel, but you get the point.)
2. Have your character know something else well, and quote from it frequently.
Maybe she’s a Christian, and keeps using the Bible to make her arguments. Or maybe he’s a West Wing fan, and borrows Aaron Sorkin’s words frequently. (I resisted that particular temptation this time – in fact, it took me till page 133 to mention the West Wing at all, and that’s because I wanted my character to wear a suit and backpack, and didn’t feel like I could do that without a nod at Josh Lyman.)

3. Get your character to speak a foreign language from time to time.
That way, they have to saw everything twice: once in the language, and once in translation. 
4. Use circumlocution.
If he says, “no”, that’s one word. If “he shakes his head no”, that’s five. If he “explains”, that’s one word. Have him “say by way of explanation” instead, and get yourself some extra.
5. Show, don’t tell. 
Yes – at last some sensible writing advice that holds even if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo. What I mean here is this, though: instead of saying, “she was kissing him”, make it last: “she was kissing him, kissing him, kissing him”. If their arguments are going in a circle, show it by making your narration go in a circle too: “And so they were back. Not to Square One exactly, more like the “go” square on the Monopoly board, they went round and round and they kept ending up in the same places, and round and round, but each time was different as well as familiar”. There’s a sneak preview into mine. 
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How you can help me get published…

You know the novel I’ve been yabbering on about for months? Well, a sneak preview of is now available!

If you wanted to drop by and read anything from a paragraph to 15,000 words – please feel free!

If you want to comment, back, or rate me, it could help me get published too, so needless to say I’d really appreciate that… and if you’re feeling like you want to be super helpful you could post the link to your Facebook wall too.

The site is run by publishers HarperCollins, so it’s totally legit – no worries there! They ask you to register but it only takes a minute, and you don’t get spam.

Advert over!

Limping to the finishing line…

I have written a novel.
It’s finished!
So my question is this: why am I not punching the air?
I am thinking about marathons. I have never run anything close to one, nor do I ever intend to. (I know I once said this about going to America, but Aaron Sorkin is unlikely to write a gritty drama about running. If he does, then I expect I’ll be buying a pair of trainers.) So to those of you who have, a question: after you finish, how do you feel?
Do you feel euphoric, or do you drag yourself to the finishing line and then collapse in a heap and beat yourself up for not doing it better, faster?
How about the next morning? Do you ever want to run again?
Because, it’s strange, but I feel a little deflated.
What if after the marathon, someone had said, oh, well done, but now you have to climb this big mountain? Would you have been up for the challenge? Because agent hunting feels like that mountain to me.
And, here’s the thing: I am a little bit afraid.
Of feedback, because I can’t bear the thought that there might be more weeks, more months of work ahead.
Of reading, because I am in love with beautiful prose, and I know that mine does not come close to the standards that I admire and aspire to: I fear that literary fiction will punch me in the gut.
Of writing, because, what if I suddenly get new ideas for this novel, this novel which is supposed to be finished? Or, worse still, what if I get ideas for my second book? Because I just don’t think I can face that yet.
But maybe that’s okay. Maybe that would be like asking a Marathon runner to do it again the next week.
Marathon runners, any thoughts? How about writers?

Could it be that the book is finished?

I’ve written before about how I don’t believe in writers’ block. I may have spoken too soon.

For almost two years now, scenes for my novel, Inevitable, have been popping into my head. Sometimes with frightening regularity. Sometimes sporadically. And even when they have not, usually if I have sat down with paper and pen for long enough, an idea has come. Not always a great one. Sometimes one I have later cut. But an idea, nonetheless.

But here is the thing now: I brainstorm. I write from prompts. I read about DC. I teach the guy who is the inspiration for my main character. I mostly still take the long train/tram journeys during which scenes used to come to me, randomly but often. I do all the things that used to work – though admittedly I haven’t watched any West Wing in a few weeks – and yet inspiration does not strike.
I spent yesterday depressed about this: I’ve been so looking forward to six whole days hanging out with my novel. And then it occurred to me – the reason might well be a good one. The reason might be that there’s nothing more to say. That the book is finished. So instead I am reading through, editing bits and pieces, cutting scenes, finding synonyms for beautiful and deleting instances of the word “suddenly”.
And getting ready to post a triumphant Facebook status update.

Adventures in writing… the journey continues

Maybe it’s my age, and the ticking of my biological clock, but the longer this writing adventure goes on, the more it feels like being a mother.

Let me explain.
You may remember that in the summer of 2009, when I was embarking on the adventure, I wrote a clumsy blogpost about how it felt a lot like being pregnant: walking around carrying the invisible promise of something new and alive and a part of you, something that consumes your every thought and hope and dream.  
Even the way it all started was a little like that sudden niggling realisation.  Uh oh.  I think I might be pregnant. I didn’t purposely sit down to start writing a novel. I was coming back from one of my first lessons with a new student, thinking, probably, about the West Wing (this was at the beginning of my, erm, interest), and it occurred to me, wouldn’t it be fun to teach Bradley Whitford French? And then I got out a notebook and started writing.  
And now? Well.  Maybe it’s the later stages of a very long labour.  (I could get more specific, but I don’t want to put you off your breakfast.)  At least, I hope it’s the later stages.  I’m pleased with what I have so far, but I need another 12,000 words, and I’m not sure where they’re going to come from; but then I also didn’t know where the last 11,000 were going to come from, and somehow they appeared.  
Well, actually, not ‘somehow’.  A lot of it was thanks to the midwife, my new friend Rebecca.  I’ve never met her in real life (yet) but we have talked a lot on Facebook over the last few months – we share a mutual, erm, interest – and she has been an incredible help and inspiration and support, cheering me on from the sidelines – push, push
I sent her my draft back in the summer, and she came back with such helpful comments and ideas and suggestions that where I thought I couldn’t keep pushing, she gave me a fresh impetus. Above all, she is almost as excited about the novel, Inevitable, as I am, and that is so motivating.
And here’s where it’s also like being a parent.  Those of you who are mums probably remember what it’s like to drop your first child off at school.  Are they going to be okay out there in the big wide world? Will they be liked? Will others realise how special they are? What a privilege it is to meet them?
At the same time as I sent my second(ish) draft off to Rebecca, I sent it to four other people, three of whom had asked me repeatedly to send them a copy.  Months later, I’ve heard nothing back from any of them apart from a couple of yes, I’m reading it comments.  
It’s like your child coming home after you have spent all day wondering how they were getting on, and you ask, how was school, and they shrug and say, okay.  And you ask, what did you learn and they shrug and say, stuff.  And you ask, did you make friends and they shrug and say, I guess.  
Heartbreaking, isn’t it?

What I love about Writing

Today’s topic for the weekly Sunday evening #writechat on Twitter is: what do you love about writing? Well, I decided that 140 characters were not really enough to answer that, and I know I have a few faithful readers out there who must be wondering if I am still alive, so I put two and two together and came up with the radical concept of a new blogpost, possibly partly motivated by slight panic at the thought that I might otherwise actually be in bed before midnight on a Sunday.

Firstly, and because no blogpost of mine would be complete without a mention of Bradley Whitford, I must quote the great man himself, with apologies to those of you who have read this a million times before on this very blog.

(Pause here for a few minutes while I use this as an excuse to distract myself by googling him, in the interests, you understand, of journalistic integrity. Or something.)

“… Want to write more than you want to be a writer. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.”

My point being, not just that Bradley Whitford is very wise, on top of all his many other qualities, but also that number one on my list of things I love about writing ought to be this:

1. Writing

The process itself. Sitting down with my coffee and my writing music (a mixture of classical music, easy listening Norah Jones type stuff and jazz) and entering another world. And that high you get. You know the one? Nothing else does that for me, though I’m told runners experience this. Is that an external reward? Probably. When I meet Brad I will get him to clarify. (Or he could comment right here…)

I feel like when I’m writing I’m doing what I was born to do. To paraphrase Eric Liddle, “God made me to love words, and I feel his pleasure when I write.”

And when you feel you’re doing it well, forming beautiful sentences and bringing characters to life, it’s exhilerating. Really.

2. It’s an excuse for doing all the other things I love, namely:

– Reading voraciously
– Learning new words
– Watching the West Wing (seriously – it inspires me! Plus, it so happens that two of my characters, Brad and Kate, are West Wing fans…)
– Listening to jazz (Brad is a jazz pianist, so…)
– Keeping up to date with American politics (Kate is a Senator, so…)
– Travelling (for research, and also because being in a new place seems to seriously inspire me.)

3, Escaping to another world.

Reality sometimes feels over-rated. My love life is non-existent, and has been for so long I prefer not to keep tabs on it anymore. In the world of my novel, I get to be someone else and be in love with a beautiful man (though I do get my heart broken, which is perhaps not so great).

I admit that this part of it can be unhealthy and that my head-in-the-sand tendencies which were already considerable are now insurmountable. But still, it’s a lot of fun.

It’s brilliant to create characters and see them come to life on the page, go and hang out with them for a few hours a day.

4. I am never bored.

There is always something to observe, a conversation to “accidentally overhear”, a detail to scribble in my notebook.

5. There is the vague hope that one day I might be a published author. Maybe even a famous one.

Yes, yes, Bradley, I heard you when you said the joy was in the journey. However, I can’t say that any of these things would be unpleasant:

– Having a fan page on Facebook with more than two members. (It’s here, if you’re interested.)
– Seeing my name (well, my pen name) in print
– Reading positive reviews about myself
– Maybe making some money

6. Apart from the world of my book, it also allows me to indulge some other fantasies, like:

– Sending it to Brad, and to Janel Moloney (who, in my head, are two of the actors on screen when it’s a film) and hearing back from them that they love it.
– Brad saying he wants to write the screenplay
– Generally getting to meet loads of cool, famous people (Yes, yes. They are just people. I know. But.)

I know you’re judging me for that right now. The fact is, though, I’d be willing to bet that all writers have those fantasies. It’s just that only some of us admit it. Also, some of us allow them to develop further than others do.

7. Bringing other people pleasure

The first (and so far, only) person to have read a draft of Inevitable from beginning to end loved it. She cried! She wanted more! She couldn’t stop reading even though she was getting up early the next day! I want to do that for people. I want them to laugh and cry and miss their stop on the tube because they got so caught up in the book. This probably ought to have been nearer the top of the list, but there you go, it’s late, I’m tired and if I moved it further up, having only just thought of it, I would feel hypocritical.

8. It allows me to develop all my other interests

This might sound like I’m repeating point 2, but allow me to expand. I’m one of those people for whom the following book was written: “The Renaissance Soul: life design for people with too many passions to pick just one”. I am such a person. And I’ve always felt as a result that life felt a bit messy (although, possibly the, erm, mess in my life also contributes to this). Writing gives me a framework, a reason for all those passions: they can be articles! Ideas for novels! Short stories! They all meet in that one goal and that is oddly satisfying. Anyone else feel like that?

9. It allows me to meet really interesting people

Writers are great people to be around. Possibly because they love Scrabble.

10. A tangeible result

Sometimes life can feel a bit plod, that you’re doing the same thing day in, day out, that your business is not particularly growing, that nothing new is happening, that you have no answer to that dreaded question: “what’s new?”. This is particularly true when all your friends have a nice two-year cycle of Exciting News going: I’ve met a guy! I’m engaged! I’m married! I’m pregnant! I’m pregnant again! etc.

These days, when people ask me what I’m doing with my life, I acutually have an answer, and although this novel has had a longer gestation period than human babies, it is growing, and doing many of the other things that babies do, like taking over my life and messing with my sleep patterns. And at the end of it, I will have a real, physical thing and I will be able to say I DID IT! And that’s quite exciting.

So, there you are. There are some of my reasons, and I’ve probably missed many out. What are yours?